ProLight + Sound 2023 Brings Some Theatre Fairy Dust to Cinemas

By Terry Nelson | September 8, 2023 6:19 pm PDT
2023 ProLight and Sound

To use a phrase that is fairly common today, this article/report is to encourage you to ‘think outside the box’ in terms of how your venue is presented and what could be done to bring the audience to your cinema before they even get into the auditorium.

Though not a cinema show per se, ProLight & Sound held last March in Frankfurt, Germany is aimed at the theatre and events industry and there is a lot that could be applied to cinemas. After all, cinemas owe their ancestry to theatre (and in the United States in particular, the name is still used as such), so why not return the compliment and see what could be applied to film venues.

In a discussion with Jimmy Sunshine of CinemaExpo, probably more than 20 years ago, he said that, in his opinion, the cinema manager of the future would not be just showing films but running a multimedia venue, with all that that implied.

It is no secret that the COVID pandemic has rattled a lot of industries and the cinema is no exception. Getting audiences back into their seats is still proving to be difficult, even though a few big successes have helped things along. So, what to do? Coming from an event and media industry background, it struck me that adding a bit of old-fashioned pizzazz to cinemas could incite people to come to a venue, before they even think about the films. In other words, make your cinema the place to be.

Lighting and visual effects for theatres and special events have come on leaps and bounds over recent years and it seems to me that this technology certainly finds its place in cinema venues. I think we can look at three phases: making the venue stand out in the street, getting the people in and then, keeping them at the venue.

Starting with the aspect ProLight (the sound can come later), I was able to investigate a variety of possibilities and received a very enthusiastic response from manufacturers with regards to use in cinemas.

There is an increasing use of projection on buildings and this can really make a place stand out. However, you may need to find a friendly neighbour or an emplacement in front of your building in order to project from.

Green Hippo - Projection Mapping
An example of Green Hippo’s projection mapping system.

The idea here is to use the façade of a building as a screen onto which the graphics and content is projected. The support – or projection – can be either projected images (which can also be dynamic) to give a whole new character to the building by using scenes of your choice or laser-driven images from laser projectors. As the old chestnut adage goes, “the only limits are your imagination.”

In the case where external projectors cannot be used for whatever reason, there are other solutions for making an eye-catching façade. These range from LED walls to show seamless high-resolution images to ground-mounted lighting projectors that can throw ambient colours – or a “wash” on parts of the wall. The entrance to the cinema could also be framed in LED strips with changing colours to invite people into the foyer.

Okay, let us say that we have got people into the building – what can we do to make sure they stay there and investigate what is on offer? The obvious point is to make sure that the ambiance is attractive and catches their interest. It is clear that the foyer is not a theatre but we can use lighting and scenic effects to involve the audience and make things exciting.

As previously mentioned, the use of LED panels and/or screens is a way of showing some exciting imagery and the content can be extremely varied. For example, concession stands could be fronted with LED panelling to show what is on offer in terms of food and beverages while panelling behind could be used for a variety of backdrops.

Flexible LED Screen
Flexible LED screens are now available and are used to great effect in front of desks and counters.

As well, the use of LED panelling can be used to great effect for publicity and branding, thus providing a viable source of extra income. One display at Pro Light & Sound had 3D images of a wall crumbling in a forest and a Pterodactyl flying out at you, to be followed by the obligatory T-Rex. It should also be mentioned that flexible LED screens are now available and are used to great effect in front of desks and counters.

In fact, LED systems are everywhere – in screens, lighting and lighting strips. They are now an economical way of providing spectacular lighting effects and what are called washes, i.e. large areas illuminated by projectors for an overall effect on walls and screens – both interior and exterior.

LED Lighting System Examples
LED systems are everywhere – an economical way of providing lighting effects.

Further possibilities are provided by LED tubes (which can be either round or square in cross-section) that can be used to build décors or just framing applications. Most of these tubes can be programmed to have different hues and effects – once again, eye-catching and providing ambiance.

Finding the right lighting applications for your foyer will be very dependent on how much floorspace – and height – is available. Much of what has been discussed so far is very flexible, but for those venues that have the height and area, motorised trusses with projectors can be used to great effect to provide changing moods. Systems as those offered by Tait, can also incorporate screens for more dynamic presentations.

It goes without saying that this offers a wide potential for marketing and logo applications.

TAIT motorised truss
TAIT makes motorised trusses with both lighting and LED screens.

Following this brief overview of lighting systems, we can take a look at some items that could be qualified as “special effects.” These certainly incorporate what could be termed the “art of illusion” and range from floor-mounted LED strips firing vertically at rough-hewn curtains – as well as smooth ones – and morphing through a range of colours and effects to create atmosphere, to flooring.

One product that particularly caught my eye was a stage composed of plastic panels with LEDs (Hunan Yestech Optoelectronic Co.) that provided a striking 3D effect – am I walking on a solid surface or in danger of falling into something? This was combined with a vibrating floor, the Infra-Floor, that transmits low audio frequencies (subsonics) when stood upon and could be used in an “experience area.”

An interesting effect for a foyer was a projection system by Green Hippo that includes cameras that allow visitors to be encrusted into a setting (i.e. virtual set technology) and to include visual effects triggered by arm movements. Fighting away falling snow proved to be very popular but anything would be possible.

Vioso provides software for the control and calibration of multi-projector systems that can be used in a variety of situations, such as interior spaces, small to large domes and multimedia simulation installations – to name but a few. Here the term ‘immersive’ really does come into its own and an installation in a foyer could be a real crowd-pleaser.

Stumpfl AnyShape Screen
An example of the Stumpfl AnyShape in which custom-designed frames can be built to suit requirements.

There are times when a traditional rectangular screen does not fit the job in hand: Stumpfl have now introduced the AnyShape screen range where custom-designed frames can be built to suit requirements. Once again, applications include visuals and marketing.

Airstar provide a range of lighted balloons and large tubes for both decorative and lighting applications. For example, if you needed a large globe of the Earth or the Moon in the middle of your foyer, these are the people to do it.

Atomic Lighting Panels
Atomic’s scenic panels can be configured in a wide variety of versions and feature internal lighting to complete the effect.

To close the lighting tour, I would like to mention Atomic, who do a range of modular systems for decorative purposes in seating areas as well as general purpose. These scenic panels can be configured in a wide variety of versions and feature internal lighting to complete the effect. As an interesting sideline, the system is rental-only, making it highly suitable for special events where unnecessary capital investment is not an option.

To complete our “out-of-the-box” roundup, we will make a brief incursion to the world of audio. Cinema loudspeaker systems have, by and large, not changed significantly over the years and new cinema auditorium concepts are starting to require different technical approaches. Uniform coverage and clarity, especially in the vocal frequencies, are a vital ingredient to any event and certain manufacturers from the concert and theatre world now have products that are very relevant to cinema.

Two names that are interesting to note are KV2 Audio and Coda Audio.

For cinema installations, the KV2 SL412 and ESR215MkII are three-way point source systems with excellent reproduction in the vocal range. Dispersion is 110° horizontal and 40° vertical, meaning wide audience coverage plus control in the vertical domain to put the sound into the audience and not into the ceiling. A range of subwoofers and application-specific amplifiers/controllers are also part of the KV2 Audio range.

KV2 SL412 Speaker from KV2 Audio
The KV2 SL412 speaker from KV2 Audio is a three-way point source system with excellent reproduction in the vocal range.

Space by Coda offers a variety of modular panels that include steerable loudspeaker systems, acoustic treatment and artwork – all to be configured to suit the venue. The concept is extremely interesting and Celluloid Junkie will be coming back to this in the near future.

On a final note, is communication among staff a problem in your venue? If so, the Riedel Bolero wireless system could be the answer. Designed for the event and broadcast industry, this digital enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) system is very robust and user friendly. The key components are colour-coded beltpacks and distribution antennae. The advantage of it being DECT is that it is immune to outside interference and thus totally secure.

With all of the convergence among the latest technologies, the cinema needs to be more than ever an ‘experience zone’. I hope that this foray into the multimedia world will have provoked some interest to look outside the box and germinate some ideas. I would be very interested to get your feedback.

Terry Nelson